Ukraine's NATO membership has been a topic of constant debate since Russia began its full-scale invasion of the country in February 2022. In 1994, Ukraine became a Partnership for Peace member to create trust and cooperation with NATO members and other former Soviet states. Although Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has remained adamant about his nation's NATO membership, admitting Ukraine into the alliance while it is at war is a challenge. Still, leaders are confident that Ukraine will become a member soon.
On September 30, 2022, Ukraine submitted its application to NATO. However, full membership is unlikely to happen in the near future as long as Ukraine is at war. Article 5 of the treaty states that an attack against a NATO country "shall be considered an attack against them all." Under the current terms of the treaty, Ukraine's admission would trigger a war between all NATO members and Russia. However, NATO leaders have made it easier for Ukraine to join.
On July 11 and 12, 2023, at the Vilnius Summit in Lithuania, alliance leaders agreed on a three-element package to bring Ukraine closer to NATO. Ukraine has been working to evolve its military from Soviet-era training and equipment to their standards. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said in a press release that a new, multi-year assistance program will "help rebuild Ukraine's security and defense sector, and to cover critical needs like fuel, demining equipment and medical supplies."
The second element of the package establishes a NATO-Ukraine Council. This will be a forum for crisis consultations and decision making where all members will meet as equals. "I look forward to having the inaugural meeting of the Council tomorrow with President Zelenskyy," Stoltenberg said on the first day of the summit. Third, NATO leaders agreed to remove the Membership Action Plan requirement for Ukraine. "This will change Ukraine's membership path from a two-step process to a one-step process," Stoltenberg said. "We also made it clear that we will issue an invitation for Ukraine to join NATO when allies agree, and conditions are met."
In addition to reaffirming their commitment to Ukraine, NATO leaders approved new defense plans for the alliance. "These [plans] are designed to counter the two main threats we face: Russia and terrorism," Stoltenberg noted. The plans put 300,000 NATO troops at a high state of readiness, including air and naval forces. NATO countries also agreed to spend at least 2% of their gross domestic product on defense.